Put On This Virtual Reality Helmet, Then Swap Your Gender

Could virtual reality help us step into the shoes of someone else?

The virtual reality headset Oculus Rift is a marvel of interactive immersion for gaming: throw it on, and instead of using the medium of a controller or keyboard, it’s actually _you _controlling the action. But, thought experiment: What if, instead, it put you in the shoes of real, honest-to-goodness human being?

That’s something like what the people at design team BeAnotherLab put together. For the project The Machine to be Another, they strapped two people to an Oculus Rift, then linked the feeds from two cameras, each attached to the other headset. In other words, each person saw what the other should be seeing, in the hopes that it could help them develop empathy for the other. (Of course, that required them to synchronize their movements. But still.)

As Yannick LeJacq at Motherboard points out, this is more art project than scientific study. Still, though, it’s not too absurd to think that, within reason, we can use virtual reality to better understand someone: research has backed up the idea that we can pick up empathy, or even learn to drop bad habits, through VR. We can’t ever fully understand what it’s like to be someone different than us–whether it’s gender or something else, people are complicated–but maybe we can get an inkling.

Here’s a video of the process. There are some naked people in it, so here is your NSFW warning.